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Part I - 9/1/2010
Among Friends and Neighbors-as published in the Spring Valley Sun/Argus
Rosemary (Wolf) Meier remembers a family business
By Kaye Bird
Rosemary (Wolf) Meier surrounded by pictures and items from Wolf Hardware. In front of Rosemary is a copper boiler used to heat water on a wood stove. The inscription reads “Olsen and Wolf.” The boiler dates back to 1919 when the hardware store was owned by the Olsen and Wolf families.
Photo by Kaye Bird
LAKE ELMO, MN - If ever there was a person devoted to preserving her family history along with the history of her hometown of Spring Valley, it's Rosemary (Wolf) Meier.
Photographs, albums, scrapbooks and other paraphernalia are all neatly organized in her Lake Elmo home. If she doesn't remember a date or a name, help is within easy reach.
Meier grew up in Spring Valley graduating in 1956 from Spring Valley High School. She is the only child of John Edward (Ed) who was also born and raised in Spring Valley and Blanche (Moore) Wolf of Viroqua, Wisconsin. Her parents met in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
"Mom was working in La Crosse, and dad had been sent there by his dad to get more training, specifically electrical training at a technical school. Grandpa impressed upon him that he would be running the store one day," she said.
And that store was Wolf Hardware-a family business that dated back to 1908. After running the store with other partners, the Wolf family became sole owners in 1940. John Albert Wolfe and Ed Wolf, a father and son team, ran the store; their wives helped. "My grandma and my mother took care of all the bookkeeping; they took turns, three days each," said Rosemary.
In 1952 following the death of his father, Ed (Rosemary's father) continued doing what he had been doing for years, but now it was without the help of his own father. And then in 1964, it was all destroyed in a fire.
Rosemary has clear memories of that day. "My mother called me. She was concerned about my daughter who was having health issues due to allergies," she said. After being assured her granddaughter was okay, Blanche said, "The store burned down today. We're waiting for the safe to cool, so we can get the papers out."
The furnace had exploded. "My dad had gone to what is now Deb's Cafˇ for his morning coffee when he heard the explosion. Someone had been working on the furnace," said Rosemary. "The paint cans and other flammable materials exploded like bullets." Adding to the danger were 50 gallon tanks in the back of the store containing things like fly spray, turpentine, and propane.
"They were worried that the whole block would go down, but the metal siding prevented the fire from spreading north," said Meier. It was an end of an era for Rosemary. The store that held so many memories for her was gone. Today she is keeping those memories alive.
"I'm an only child and the keeper of the family history, so everything was passed down to me," she said adding with a smile, "I have items passed down from three generations. My children have an eye on some of these things."
Two weeks ago, Rosemary shared her family history with the Sun-Argus. Wolf Hardware was open long hours-six days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., but even then time off was not really time off.
"We got calls at night, and sometimes half way through our Sunday dinner someone would run out of propane or have toilet problems," she said.
Wolf Hardware wasn't the only hardware store in town either-there were a total of four hardware stores in Spring Valley at that time, but when their customers needed them, the Wolf family responded. Combine that with plenty of inventory, excellent service, and an established and respected name in the community, and you have a successful business.
Even though she was not yet four years old, she has some early memories of the family store. "I remember there was a pot belly stove in the back of the store; I could always see the flames, and I remember playing on the side streets when I was very young," she said.
Rosemary was four in 1942 when flood waters roared down McKay Street damaging and destroying businesses and inventory. "That day was Farmer's Day, so there were animals in town. A bull floated right into the store and came to rest on top of one of the cases," she said.
The men working in the store at the time began throwing ledgers and other precious papers into wash tubs and carried them upstairs. "They escaped out onto the roof of the next building-Bertelson's Drug. They were all okay," said Meier.
"Prisoners came into town to help with the cleanup," she said. "Mom told me that I couldn't go near them." While the hardware store sustained plenty of damage, the Wolf family homes escaped the flood's fury. "Our house and my grandparent's house were not on street level-we were about a foot above it, and we had flood gates on our basement windows to keep Burghardt Creek from flooding our basement," she said.
She brought out several pictures of Spring Valley before and after the floor pointing out the "post flood" steps. Business owners along McKay Street raised the floors of their buildings to at least try and prevent the kind of damage they had suffered in 1942.
Next week, Rosemary shares more memories of growing up in Spring Valley and working in her family's store.
Part II - 9/1/2010
Among Friends and Neighbors - as published in the Spring Valley Sun/Argus
Rosemary (Wolf) Meier remembers a family business
By Kaye Bird
Rosemary Meier shares more
Photo by Kaye Bird
LAKE ELMO, MN Š The signatures may be fading on a baseball signed by members of a 1950's team, but for Rosemary (Wolf) Meier, memories of that team and growing up in Spring Valley remain crystal clear.
After locating a picture of a 1950 edition of Duffy's Darlings, she shared this story. "My girlfriends and I used to put up the numbers on the scoreboard for their home baseball games. We cut the pieces of metal for the numbers at our hardware store and painted the numbers black," she said. And how did she and her girlfriends get this job? "I think we had an inside edge on the job because my dad was treasurer for the team," Meier confessed.
She continued, "The loaded woodbox that held the numbers was quite heavy. It was a project to carry it to and from the car." And that's not all she remembers about growing up in Spring Valley.
An only child of parents who owned a local hardware store, Rosemary found plenty of places to play and plenty of things to do. "I loved to play in the store with the packing boxes. We had a machine for making stove pipes, and I would often take the cut pieces and make doll house furniture," she said. The store also came in handy when it was time for McKay Street parades.
"My friends and I watched the homecoming parades from the upstairs. After the parades we collected all the crepe paper streamers. We would roll them up and put them in an upstairs cabinet," she remembered.
Yet it wasn't all fun and games. Rosemary was expected to work in the store, but she never once complained. "All my friends' parents had businesses too, so I never gave it too much thought," she said. In fact, one gets the impression that some of her best memories come from working at Wolf's Hardware.
"I would dust and arrange items. We had big tables with kitchen knives and tongs, and we also had dishes that were used for threshers along with pots and pans," she recalled.
Another memory involved nails. "They were under the cabinet in metal bins. I would pull them out with a claw-like instrument, put them into a metal measuring container and then put them on the scale which was on the counter. I would then pour the nails into a heavy duty sack or a cardboard box."
"I sold everything in the store," she continued." In typical small town fashion, the farmers who frequented the store would often her help locate items. Since Wolf Hardware was an "Our Own Hardware" franchise, there was always plenty of inventory to unpack-another one of Rosemary's duties. "I also updated the price lists," she added.
Long before the advent of computers, balance sheets were done by hand. "Every night we had to balance, and sometimes we sat there for a long time," she said adding, "People charged things a lot. Each customer had his/her own individual sheet where we would post the charges."
When her dad and other employees were out fixing or installing furnaces or milking machines, and when her mother and grandmother were attending Ladies Aid or other meetings, Rosemary found herself alone in the store. "I remember my dad telling me that if anyone ever came in to rob the store, to just hand over the money," she said. No robberies ever occurred.
Another one of Meier's responsibilities was to be the "gofer" for her parents. "I took the bank deposits to the bank, I mailed packages at the post office, and I was sent to the creamery lots of times," she recalled. People who owned money to the store often had the money taken out of their milk checks. She was sent to the creamery with the necessary papers so she could collect that money.
How did all these responsibilities impact her? Was she ever resentful of the work? "Never," said Rosemary. "I could come and go whenever I wanted to; the store never interfered with my activities."
Upon graduation from high school, Rosemary attended Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in vocal music. She taught in Menomonie for one year.
Rosemary married her high school sweetheart, James Meier, and the couple moved to Somerset when James was hired by the Somerset School District as a math and science teacher. Later he became the principal. Rosemary taught for one year in Somerset and then gave private piano lessons until 1998.
James eventually resigned his position at Somerset and worked at 3M until his retirement. The family moved to Lake Elmo. Rosemary and James had three children: Marjorie, Christine and Sandra. Eight grandchildren rounded out the Meier family. In 1998 James died.
Today Rosemary lives on a quiet, tree-lined lane near Lake Elmo. Her interest in history and family has led her to become a member of ancestory.com-a website that assists members in tracing family trees. It seems like a good fit for a woman who treasures memories, and some of those memories include growing up in a small Wisconsin town.